Making Knowledge Work

August 4, 2010

LIKE in the City

Filed under: Uncategorized — virginiahenry @ 4:21 pm

My friend Marja knows loads more about London than I do (well, loads more about loads of things, but we’ll stick with London for now…..):  unburdened by affiliations to specific areas north or south of the river, she’s roamed free – exploring and appreciating the capital.  In short, she’s done what many of us who’ve lived here for decades mean to do, but never quite get around to.

So her suggestion, that LIKE’s  July event should be a guided tour of the square mile, was a chance to finally get around to some exploration of the City.

Last Thursday was one of those unfortunate days that don’t quite work to plan, so I missed the first half of the 2-hour walk.  But when I caught up with the group they hadn’t moved too far from The Monument, and there were plenty of ancient alleys and local landmarks still to see.

The Guide from London Walks provided an impressive demonstration of knowledge-sharing as she led us around.  Some of the sharper members of the group were doing a good job of knowledge-capture – making notes and taking pictures.  I was too busy gawping or chatting to retain much detail, but the highlights included an explanation of the plain exteriors of Wren’s churches (apparently he knew they’d quickly be abutted by hurriedly-erected shops and dwellings, so ensured all adornments were inside);  a quiet interlude in St Dunstan’s garden and mingling with the dragons and drinkers while hearing about the history of Leadenhall Market.

The walk ended at a suitably historic venue – The Jamaica Wine House down St Michael’s Alley, on the site of London’s first coffee house.  A nice old pub, it served as a perfect ‘penny university’ for us to end the evening in.

On the last Thursday of August LIKE will be enjoying a different venue, created by another of the city’s great architects – John Nash.  If you’d like to come along to the picnic in the park, sign up on Linked In

June 13, 2010

The Wisdom of my Crowd

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — virginiahenry @ 9:56 am

Time’s a funny thing – sometimes there seem to be so many hours to the day (usually, admittedly, a boring day!),  and other times the minutes rush past like a river in flood…

I’ve been feeling guilty and a little selfish for having enjoyed a number of fascinating events and evenings in recent weeks, without reflecting on them here.  I’d love to have shared some of the points raised in discussion during the PI Conference ; or talked about the interesting ideas being exchanged at the recent SLA networking evening…..  But there’s no time for that now and, anyway, my notes don’t make as much sense as they did immediately after the events.

One of the most fascinating recent discussions I haven’t told you about focused on “Transliteracy”.  Fortunately three of my eloquent and organised LIKE buddies have  recorded their impressions of the evening – and each is worth reading.  Hanna Lewin’s informative account is published on the LIKE blog ; Matthew Rees’ ‘Ham Life’ is always entertaining, and the entry on Transliteracy is a vivid snapshot of the night; Richard Nelsson, whose insightful comments were among those I captured on the night , shares his perspective on his “Vexed Issue” blog.

I’ll be sorry to miss the next LIKE evening – it promises to be just as fasinating, as the debate will be on The Digital Economy Bill, led by Glyn Wintle from the Open Rights Group.    Maybe you’ll get along there yourself?  If so, let me know how it goes 😉

April 2, 2010

Better Targeted Consulting

Filed under: Uncategorized — virginiahenry @ 11:33 am

“Why do organisations bring in Consultants?” asked Chris Collison.   A room full of LIKE members (a number of Consultants among them) immediately suggested several reasons:

  • Lack of internal capability
  • Because the organisation doesn’t know what to do
  • Because the organisation doesn’t know what it knows
  • To blame them – or have an external bearer of bad tidings
  • To have an impartial champion
  • So that the sponsor has someone ‘on their side’ to make the case
  • As an extra pair of hands to support a process
  • For benchmarking purposes….

There were lots of reasons, some of them pretty reasonable.  But Chris reminded us of the kind of conversation that we’d either heard of or taken part in: Employee to Consultant – “I could’ve told them everything you’ve told them, but they won’t listen to me”.

Chris Collison and Geoff Parcell’s latest book,  ‘No More Consultants‘  is about the practical measure that can be taken to tap into your organisations’ internal capabilities before looking outside for expertise.  Chris argued that intellectually lazy organisations turn first to external Consultants – those that are good at managing their knowledge should be far more effective in choosing and using Consultants.  The KM techniques he advocates should help companies avoid a very big bill, an end-of-project set of PowerPoint slides and a number of disenfranchised employees who wish they’d been asked.

He itemised four cultural barriers (two on the supply side and two demand-side) to organisational knowledge exchange:

The Tall Poppy syndrome – if you stand too tall, you’re more likely to be cut down.  If you’re not, and your expertise is recognised, you might find it difficult to do your day job; as the flood of requests from individuals and departments for your assistance can be hard to deal with or resist.

The Shrinking Violet syndrome – you don’t know how good you are, so you don’t come forward.  No-one’s given you a frame of reference in which you can see that no-one does the job quite like you.  So you remain a buried treasure.

The Not Invented Here problem – you’re told that “it may have worked where you were before, but we’re different here”.  “We’re unique and only unique solutions will work”

The Real Men Don’t Ask Directions difficulty – Fear of parading one’s own incompetence, or demeaning oneself in the eyes of colleagues makes you muddle through alone.

While at BP Chris and Geoff had enabled Engineers across the world to identify their levels of capability in around 25 common practices, and then to narrow the gaps by sharing knowledge.  They helped the Engineers identify the components of each level – 1 being very basic and 5 being world-class.  Then, when everyone had agreed the model, they were asked to assess themselves.  Chris and Geoff collated the range of scores and then used KM techniques such as story-telling, communities of practice, knowledge cafes etc to bring level 5 practitioners together with those at level 1  to share best practice.  To overcome any barriers to sharing, they instituted an “offers and requests” system – each business unit was compelled to put forward three offers to share knowledge and three requests for knowledge input.

There are times when the expertise just isn’t there in the organisation, and you need to look outside – sometimes outside of your immediate discipline – for inspiration.  Chris told us about the moment of inspired pattern-recognition that led the cardiac surgeon Professor Martin Elliot to look for help from  Formula One pit stop teams.  If McLaren and Ferrari technicians could achieve complex,  accurate changeovers  within seven seconds, surely they’d be the people to go to for assistance in improving the safe post-operative transfer of vulnerable babies to intensive care?  They were and, because Prof Elliot isn’t a man afraid to ask directions, Great Ormond Street Hospital has benefited enormously from the Peer assist.

The scene was set, it was time for us to test-drive the self-assessment process Chris had outlined.  We were each given a table describing five levels of achievement within five elements of Knowledge Management capability.  Across the top were the titles:  KM  strategy, Leadership behaviours,  People and networks, Learning before, during and after and Capturing knowledge.  And down the side were Levels 1 to 5 – with descriptors such as “Some individuals take the time to capture their lessons in any number of cupboards and databases.  They are rarely refreshed, few contribute, even fewer search” (Level 1, Capturing knowledge) and “Leaders recognise the link between KM and performance.  The right attitudes exist at the top to share and use others’ know-how…”  (Level 5 Leadership behaviours).

It didn’t take long for Chris to plot our responses on a chart and show that, for most of us, our example organisations had a lot to do to rise above Levels 2 and 3 (where KM is talked about by many, but the responsibility of few.  Often a delegated duty – like the office safety rep!)  My LIKE co-founder, Jennifer Smith, scored very high.  But her company specialises in helping businesses organise their knowledge and information, and she and her fellow- Director practice what they preach.

Chris showed us the next step in the analysis process – a river diagram plotting the variants between an organisation’s target levels of attainment (in this case, specific measures of  a chemical manufacturer’s operational excellence) and the levels identified by the self-assessment exercise.  And he talked about the techniques that could be used to narrow the gaps and make the river flow more smoothly.

There wasn’t time for much after that – except dinner of course, and lots and lots of conversation.  So LIKE’s planning a full-day seminar later in the year for a deeper dive into the topic.

March 22, 2010

Thinking about Twittering

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — virginiahenry @ 7:14 pm

It’s not hard to stumble upon lots of opinions and advice about Twitter – from outright condemnation (often from those who’ve not seen or used it) to grudging, slightly nonplussed acceptance (good example from the New York Times’ David Pogue last year) to enthusiast’s instructional videos!

So it was a treat to get some thoughtful analysis and useful advice at last week’s SLA event “Tweeting While You Work”.

Dr Hazel Hall focused on Twitter’s validity as a business and microblogging tool – useful for knowledge-sharing and developing asymmetrical relationships.  Julie Hall, founder of Women Unlimited provided examples of the serendipitous business and marketing opportunities offered by Twitter, and showed how some companies are using it, cleverly, for promotion and customer relationship-building.  Enthusiastic blogger and SEO, Judith Lewis‘s presentation focused on managing your (or your business’) reputation and measuring the effectiveness of your Twittering.

It was an enjoyable way to learn useful stuff, and now I know what I should be doing, maybe I’ll do it….

Presentation slides and sound-files are on SLA Europe site – although this link will be no use to you if you’re not an SLA member ;-(     But if you are, they’re worth a look/listen.

March 2, 2010

Trusted Source

Filed under: Uncategorized — virginiahenry @ 2:00 pm

When we worked together, I always counted on Bill Rogers to talk sense to me – no matter how loud the jargon-laden wittering  around us became.
I still rely on his sharp wits and keen eye.  Check out his observations on the heavily-leaked BBC review here

February 25, 2010

Community of Ideas

Filed under: Uncategorized — virginiahenry @ 2:24 pm

A good week for exploring ideas.  It kicked off with a David Gurteen knowledge café on Monday evening.

The topic for discussion was ‘the 10 year impact of communities’ – and Richard McDermott set the framework by explaining that ten years ago successful communities tended to be voluntary, ‘outside’ of the organisation, and relied on the passion and commitment of the community leader.
Now they are integral to the organisation, have goals and deliverables, and leadership is an acknowledged element of a person’s official role.
The question was how would they develop over the next decade, now that social media was in the mix?

Lots of good ideas got thrown around:  someone said that sharing knowledge “in the open” was catching on, and that organisations were more successful when they were open in their sharing.  That was backed up by those of us with experience as suppliers or consultants – being enabled in our roles by having been ‘let in’ on clients’ knowledge systems.  Supply-chain knowledge-sharing came up a couple of times in the discussion.  As did the issue of ‘trusted sources’ and how, in a time of seamless connectivity, you evaluate the people you talk to and the information they share.  Which, inevitably, led to talk of ‘information overload’….

I shared a table with a number of people whose practical experience of making knowledge work was impressive.  Among other things we talked about the challenges of engaging senior management in the knowledge endeavour (more than one of us had tales to tell of distant interest and delegated support), and incentives and rewards for people who ‘get it’, and do get engaged.
Recognition, low-value (but thoughtful) rewards and the inclusion of knowledge management activities in peoples’ formal roles were seen as most effective

Michael Norton, Knowledge Projects Manager for the Improvement and Development Agency for local government, had some interesting examples of supporting people with straightforward technical remedies to their collaboration issues.

We ended the evening with more questions than answers.  But the general feeling was that the 10 year impact of communities had been positive, and there was a lot to look forward to.

Tonight it’s the first anniversary LIKE meeting.  Not such a capacious venue as the Deloitte canteen (which Kevin Wheatly had kindly loaned for the knowledge café), but a friendly and welcoming Bloomsbury pub – with good food, great company and, this evening, the fascinating subject of taxonomies to mull over…..

February 8, 2010

Insights into information behaviours

Filed under: Uncategorized — virginiahenry @ 8:20 pm

We called LIKE 10 “Knowing me, knowing you: information behaviour & culture change”.  We wanted to get to know two very different professionals and see how their backgrounds, experiences and environments influenced their behaviours when accessing information and accruing knowledge.

Carol is the Director of Metataxis, which specialises in information management and architecture.  During her career she’s worked in the civil service and with local government. She’d started out as a Social Worker and for the evening, backed up by some current research (egs: / ), she slipped back into that role.

Liz was, until the end of last year, the Head of Information Management at Tube Lines.  While there she’d learned a lot about the Engineers and their information behaviours – and she drew on that knowledge (and some of the available research – eg:  in her adopted role of Engineer.

There were many differences between these individuals – Carol was motivated by a passion for social justice and a desire to help people, Liz had an affinity with things: fixing them, figuring out how they worked, coming up with ways to make them work better…..   Liz used technical language that was, relatively, universal.  Carol dealt in terms that were, inevitably, subject to a range of interpretations.

Interestingly, when it came to finding and recording information, they had a lot in common.  In short – the systems purportedly designed to assist them were more hindrance than help.

Liz explained that plans and drawing were supposed to be available through the ECM system.  But vast, full-colour CAD files were almost impossible to download.  So lots of important engineering documents were kept, by individuals, in more readily-accessible places.

Carol’s database was sometimes useful for finding case files, but more often that not additional, essential, paper records were kept off-site, and it took a couple of days to get hold of them.  In some cases a mass of records had been scanned into the system as one file – when it finally downloaded and was on the screen in front of you, it was impossible to make head or tail of it.

Both cited examples of searching for, and locating, records on their systems only to discover that the documents were out of date, or too long-winded, or too ‘general’ to be of any use.

Liz felt it was more important to know the author’s name than to study their drawing or manual. That way she could track the guy down and ask him what she needed to know.  Carol also preferred talking to a colleague from whom she’d inherited a case, rather than trying to decipher their handwriting or interpret unclear records.

With record-keeping it wasn’t only the systems, but the type of information, its timeliness, and the language in which it should be recorded that caused problems.   Both the Social Worker and the Engineer were keeping hand-written notes, and getting them transferred to their online systems was pretty hit-and-miss.

The underground work environment doesn’t lend itself to data entry.  There’s no connectivity, and a trial of the Toughbook had been abandoned, because Engineers felt vulnerable when they emerged from underground stations at 4.30am carrying such desirable pieces of kit.  So that left “scrawled notes on scruffy bits of paper” being handed over to the office staff, who’re then supposed to enter it into the database.
Noting work that had been done, and keeping plans and drawings up to date made sense to Liz, but it wasn’t a priority.   A sense of loyalty to her employers wasn’t going to influence her, as she didn’t trust their motives in asking for data.  For example, reporting “time on task” would give the bosses an idea of how long each job might take.  But they could be demanding that information because they wanted to cut her hours, or make her redundant.

Carol wasn’t reluctant to keep records – she recognised their importance – but how to keep them was an issue.  In the field, she relied on her notebook: she’d return to her car after visiting a client and write the visit up in her book.  The notes would go into the database as soon as feasible.  She tried to keep to the guidelines that “entries should be made no later than 5 working days from the contact, correspondence or meeting”, but memory can fade, and notes become less easy to decipher, during that time.  Experience and trial-and-error had taught her which terms to use and what to avoid in her note-taking.  She had been trained to use the new database, and much emphasis had been put on issues such as data protection, but she’d never been trained in methods for recording interviews and observations.

When she did update case files she felt that, too often, she was writing in coded, veiled language – trying to soften the meaning because she was thinking of her audience.

Carol wondered if other means of recording could be considered – whether audio, video, an amanuensis to accompany the social worker….  This prompted Liz to suggest Mission Impossible glasses.

The discussion broadened to include ideas and experiences from other LIKE members.  Karen Drury said it was inevitable that perceptions and explanations would differ among individuals, so it was important to have an agreed ‘norm’ against which things could be measured.  She suggested to Carol that a tool such as the Likert Scale might help to reflect degrees of subtlety and enable more focused discussion.

Matthew Rees thought KM 1.0 had failed because of the rush to write everything down – mistaking that for knowledge-sharing.  He shared Simon Carswell’s  view that web 2.0 and enterprise 2.0 got much closer to real knowledge-transfer: not just repositories of information, but people having conversations around that information, bringing it alive.

Noeleen Schenk had found that the person most likely to trust their organisation’s records or knowledge system was the individual who’d sponsored it!  In most of the places she’d worked the infrastructure didn’t support information exchange – largely because the costly and tedious groundwork of interfaces and pipelines had been neglected.

Geraldine Clement-Stoneham worked in an organisation that relied on the oral transfer of information, because they had no other systems in place.  During her first weeks there meetings had been set up for her with lots of people.  It worked well, particularly because she was able to revisit them a few months later when she was more familiar with the ‘local language’ and better able to make sense of what they told her.

Lucy Reid said in teams it was fine to ask, and to glean information that way.  But there were risks in not being able to record information – effectively being cut off from the flow of knowledge because you don’t know who to ask, or because those who know aren’t around to ask.

Culture came into the discussion – organisational culture (Karen referred to studies of oil platform workers – eg and peoples’ cultural backgrounds – common understanding and international standards are achievable in engineering, but in social work?

Liz’s mention of the ‘spycamera’ glasses reminded me of Vannevar Bush’s brilliant Memex device (though I think he’d envisaged stills rather than video recordings).  He outlined it, in 1945, in an essay called “As We May Think
At the end of the piece, he hopes that man(kind) can “reacquire the privilege of forgetting the manifold things he does not need to have immediately at hand, with some assurance that he can find them again if they prove important.”

Our information behaviours show we haven’t quite cracked that one yet.  But maybe taxonomies can help create the common ground we need?  Next month, for LIKE’s first birthday, Fran Alexander will guide us through the landscape of the semantic web and explain how taxonomies can be our flexible friends.

January 27, 2010

Knowledge vs Information

Filed under: Uncategorized — virginiahenry @ 2:50 pm

Catching up with some reading, I came across two articles – one headlined “A lot of knowledge is a dangerous thing” and the other, “You can never have too much knowledge”.

In the 16th January issue of the New Scientist, Paul Parsons was discussing what the philosopher Nick Bostrom calls “information hazard”– the potential dangers incurred  by the dissemination of  certain types of  information (such as publication on GenBank of the 1918 flu virus’ genome).  His brief examination of the cases for and against censorship made it clear that the piece was really about the potential misuse and misinterpretation of the wired world’s growing data resources.  In fact, using the MMR vaccine controversy as an example, he showed that ignorance really isn’t bliss.

A fascinating issue to explore, though, and it got me thinking about the similarities between “information hazard” and Alvin Toffler’s “information overload”……

The second article drew very clear distinctions between information and knowledge.  It was an interview with the knowledge and learning consultant Larry Prusak in the December ’09 issue of SLA’s  ‘Information Outlook’, in which he said that, while there can be too much information for an individual to absorb,  you can never have too much knowledge.  He reckons participation and experience are greater contributors to knowledge than information, and librarians in organisations should focus on finding people who know things rather than on finding documents.

What Mr Prusak says makes a lot of sense.  As a Knowledge Management Consultant, most people I’ve worked with find it more useful to be put in touch with someone who has the knowledge they need, rather than being directed to documents and reports relating to the issue. Admittedly that’s sometimes because the content templates or report formats on their knowledge intranets are over-complicated and lengthy (I’ve never understood why quantity can be so readily equated with quality). But it’s also because people rarely write as they speak:  the less formal, more vivid spoken word is easier to absorb and, as conversation is participative, knowledge-transfer is more readily achieved.

That’s one of the reasons that I use interview as a tool.  Another is this:  when someone in a global organisation has posted the case study of a highly-successful project they’ve led, they can find themselves inundated with calls from around the network.  Better to record a brief interview answering what are likely to be the FAQ’s and post the sound file alongside the case study. A third very good reason is linked to what was a much-used term in the KM world – knowledge ‘capture’.  What if the knowledge you need is in the head of an external Consultant, or an employee who’s moved on?  An interview with the individual, while the experience is still fresh in their mind, is a good way for the organisation to retain what might otherwise be lost.

And interviewing’s an enjoyable way to explore ideas and issues.  At tomorrow night’s LIKE the information behaviours of an Engineer and a Social Worker will be examined through interviews.  It should be fun – I’ll let you know.

November 27, 2009

Sharing experiences of SharePoint

Filed under: Uncategorized — virginiahenry @ 12:37 pm

Been getting some interesting questionnaire responses in advance of LIKE 9 “Tales from the SharePoint trenches” next Thursday evening.

The issue’s attracted a lot of interest and the upstairs room of The Perseverance is going to be full of fascinating LIKE folk (I suspect the brilliant bangers and mash may be acting as a draw too….).  I’m hoping to pick up some SharePoint pointers at Online Information early next week as well.  So my next post will be full of all the useful tips and tales I’ve heard.

November 14, 2009

From screen scraping to slander

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — virginiahenry @ 3:15 pm

The SLA hosted a debate last week on ‘free vs fee – the future of news’ with Jeremy Lawson from Dow Jones,  Andrew Hughes of the Newspaper Licensing Agency, Laurence C Rafsky, CEO of Acquire Media and media lawyer Laurence Kaye.

Donald Roll, MD (Europe) of Alacra, moderator for the evening, started by  telling us of a recent survey showing US newspaper sales dropped by more than 10% in six months. In the UK the Evening Standard was the latest paper to adopt the free model, and there was a vast range of no-charge news available online.  So, he asked, should we expect a free ride for news content?  It wasn’t hard to guess what the answers might be from the panel…

Andrew Hughes explained that NLA is owned by the big 8 newspapers and represents most of the rest.  From 1st January 2010, he said, they’d be enforcing licences for B2B reuse of content, and he directed us to his organisation’s website so we could get licensed.

Jeremy Lawson told us his organisation has interests on both sides of the issue – Dow Jones is a publisher, and Factiva an aggregator.  But he had no doubts on this issue: to him “free is a four-letter word”.  Quality was worth paying for, and all the Wall Street Journal subscribers proved that

Laurence Rafsky cheerfully littered his speech with that four-letter word.  There were many types of free, he said, such as professionally-written and free to users but paid for by others, free give-aways, free to some but not to others…..  Acquire aggregates both paid-for and free material.  Added value was worth paying for, and that’s what his business provided.

Laurence Kaye’s view was that change was being driven by consumers, but copyright change takes time. Not least because the media’s global but copyright is local.   Professional journalism still has a place, and existing laws provide a framework for paid, free and hybrid content models. The UK has something like 28 legal exceptions for uses such as for private study or research. In the US they have a general exception argument of ‘Fair Use’.  For businesses the issue is the commercial effect of reuse – demonstrated by Ryanair’s recent active pursuit of screen-scraping “pirates”,  and the 2007 judgement for the Copiepresse newspaper group against Google.

During the Q&A session the panel saw a future in which highly customised offerings, such as ‘personalised’ news (eg stories relating to Liverpool FC for diehard fans), would emerge.  Reminded me a little of debates about narrowcasting vs broadcasting that occupied traditional media journalists toward the end of the last century…  Kindle was seen as something that would make charging for content easier, in a world where people expected stuff for free.  Laurence Kaye said it was difficult for users to know when free reuse was OK and when it wasn’t – he was encouraged by the government’s recognition that clarification was needed in its newly-published paper on copyright.   Jeremy Lawson and Andrew Hughes said it was up to publishers to make B2B and B2C charging work.   And Laurence Rafsky gleefully predicted that by 2030 there would be no printed newspapers.

Copyright came up again this week – during an excellent, lightening, summary of Information Law by Professor Charles Oppenheim.  OneIS organised the event, and they’ve thoughtfully provided Prof Oppenheim’s slides on their site.  It was a down-to-earth review of the practical implications of the Data Protection Act, the pitfalls of cloud computing (America’s Patriot Act can override any privacy you might think you’re entitled to), contract law, the eCommerce Directive, defamation and good old copyright.

The Professor’s anecdotes related the law to real life and made the issues he touched on accessible.  There was no slander being slung around (the notion that convicted criminals’ reputations are already pretty low inevitably prompted some entertaining comments on Jeffrey Archer’s character and talents, but they were honestly-held opinions!), but the Prof was serious when he advised everyone to protect their reputation online by regularly Googling themselves.

Aside from the pleasant wine and talk at the end of the evening, one of the best features of the event was to encounter a speaker who talked to, rather than at, their audience.

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